The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 — out March 19 on Disney+ and Disney+ Hotstar — is both an exciting and strange start to the new Marvel Cinematic Universe series. On one hand, it gives us an action spectacle that feels very much on par with what we get from Marvel movies. Episode 1 also examines some underlying issues for Avengers that are otherwise never touched upon: like how do they make a living? Did Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) get a salary from Iron Man? Who will offer health and travel insurance to the 106-year-old Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)? Okay, I made the last one up, but it’s worth thinking about. And then, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 ends by introducing a new Captain America (Wyatt Russell), appointed by the US government.
On the other hand, the titular heroes Falcon (Mackie) and Winter Soldier (Stan) do not share a single scene in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1. The first episode is all over the place, as it attempts to catch us up on their post-Avengers: Endgame lives. Sam is in Tunisia one moment, then in Washington D.C., and then in Louisiana. Bucky seems to be in New York — I might be totally wrong — in present day, but there are also flashbacks to his old self and more recent self as he tries to make amends. Also, there’s no sign of the returning villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl). Instead, all we get are some masked villains who hit really hard. Sorry, who are these people?
It’s really just a tease of what’s to come, which is why we don’t have a review of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier based on the first episode.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 — directed by Kari Skogland and written by creator Malcolm Spellman — opens with Sam getting ready. As he packs the Captain America shield in its leather case, we hear his Endgame exchange with Captain America, of how the shield feels like it’s someone else’s. This scene works best for those that have seen Endgame, though even those with a passing knowledge of the MCU will know that that shield belongs to Captain America. If anyone does wonder what it’s doing with Sam, the action sequence that follows proves how capable and worthy he is for Cap’s shield.
Set in Tunisia, it involves Sam being sent in to rescue a US Air Force officer from the clutches of some paramilitary terrorists. But there’s an additional catch: he must do it before they fly into Libyan airspace, as the US armed forces can’t be seen operating there. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 has a typical Marvel movie start — a high-octane thrilling action sequence that shows Falcon at his best, one that also makes sure that everyone is introduced to what he is capable of, even if they have never met him. Sam has to outrun (outfly?) missiles, deal with guns (at times while diving), and really put his neck on the line. It’s a scene best experienced and one that I don’t wish to reduce to words.
After the Falcon saves the day (expectedly), he spends some time on the ground with a fellow American officer Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez) as they chat about how the power vacuum during the Blip — the five years after Thanos’ Snap — has led to the creation of new factions such as these who believe the world was better when half the population wasn’t around. Sam and Joaquin agree to work together to find out who’s behind this chain of events. Joaquin jokes that he’s heard of conspiracy theories about Cap being on the Moon, and that Sam flew him there, but Sam assures him that there’s no truth to it. Wait, why does the world believe Captain America is on the Moon?
Well, that’s because Cap is gone. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 cuts to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in the US capital, with Sam paying tribute to Cap. James Rhodes/ War Machine (Don Cheadle) is also at the event. Sam talks about how the world fell into turmoil after billions of people reappeared after five years, and that they need new heroes suited to the times they live in. “Symbols are nothing without the men and women that give them meaning,” Sam adds, using that as justification to pass Cap’s shield to the museum. Sam and Rhodes then have a few words, with the latter wondering why he didn’t take it up. It felt like someone else’s, Sam reiterates, and that someone else is Steve.
Cut to Bucky having nightmares about his brainwashed past — where on his missions, he even terminated helpless eyewitnesses. In present day, he’s seeing therapist Dr. Raynor (Amy Aquino) who is helping him through his nightmares. Bucky has been pardoned by the US government but must live by three rules: don’t do anything illegal, don’t hurt anyone, and make amends. As part of the last bit, Bucky has turning in former HYRDA agents to the relevant law authorities. But Bucky is having trouble moving forward in his personal life. As he notes, he went from one fight to another for 90 years. Except for that tiny period of calm in Wakanda where his brainwashing was erased. Raynor notes that he’s now free, to which Bucky replies: “To do what?”
As part of making amends, Bucky has befriended Yori (Ken Takemoto), the father of the eyewitness he killed.
We switch back to Sam, who is now in his native Louisiana, visiting his sister Sarah Wilson (Adepero Oduye) — who is new to the MCU. His nephews call him Uncle Sam naturally, and Sarah twists that to mock him, saluting as she drily repeats “Uncle Sam” — you know, the personification of the USA. It’s rubbing in the fact that Sam has always chosen country over family. While Sam has been away, their family business has been struggling, more so due to the fact that she had precious few customers during the five-year Blip. Sarah has reached a point where she’s considering selling the family boat — named after their parents Paul and Darlene Wilson — that is a crucial part of the business. Sam tries to convince her to delay it, promising that he can secure a new loan.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 then flips back to Bucky, who’s on a date with waitress Leah (Miki Ishikawa) that Yori set up for him. As he plays Battleship with Leah, he gets asked about how old is he (106, he truthfully answers), why he wears gloves (poor blood circulation, he lies), and his siblings (he has a sister, wait she’s still alive? She must be really old then).
And it’s time for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to introduce its villains. Joaquin, Sam’s army buddy from earlier, arrives in Switzerland, where a bunch of people have gathered using an app of some sort. Someone is distributing masks for them to wear, and Joaquin naturally accepts one too to blend in. But it doesn’t seem like anyone knows what they are really here for. Because soon after, alarm bells go off as a burly masked man with heavy bags in his hand jumps out of a building. Is this a robbery? Good-guy Joaquin tries to stop him — he pulls off his mask and points a gun at him, like he has jurisdiction in Switzerland — but all he ends up doing is hurting himself in the process. Turns out the burly masked man can hit really hard, as Joaquin goes flying into a wall.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 heads back to Louisiana, with Sam and Sarah going to a bank to get a fresh loan for their business. The loan officer (Vince Pisani) quickly recognises Sam as an Avenger, who agrees to take a selfie with him. As they get down to brass tasks, the loan officer notes that Sam’s records don’t show any income for the last five years. Well, duh, he was “blipped”. The loan officer then (jokingly?) wonders if Tony Stark paid the Avengers a salary, for Sam to remind him that he did it for the love of his country. Unfortunately, you can’t put that down on a loan application — and hence, Sam and Sarah are denied the money they desperately need.
Outside, the Wilson siblings get into an argument, which essentially exists to reveal their backstories. Sam left the family at an early age and joined the Air Force, and it was left to Sarah to run the family business. She’s had to deal with additional problems, having lost her husband as well.
Later, Sam gets on a video call with the injured Joaquin, who explains what he had been (foolishly) up to. In their conversation, they bring up the term “Flag Smashers”, which is not a name we’ve heard before but is central to the new Marvel series as we know from promos. But The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 1 doesn’t bother to get into that just yet, leaving it for future episodes.
Just then, Sarah walks in, asking Sam if he’s heard the news. On the TV, a government official announces that in the wake of the Blip, the country needs to be inspired again — it needs a new symbol. And in direct contrast to Sam’s views on the topic, the US Department of Defense reveals that it’s picked a new Captain America. The pictures behind the episode credits reveal that new Cap is called John Walker, who is played by Russell. While Sam was reticent to pick up the shield because he felt it belonged to Cap, his country has no qualms about handing it over to someone else at a moment’s notice.